Why body image needs to be revisited

  • Why your body is like a car (in a good way)
  • An interesting trick that could change a bad body image
  • More bad news about processed food


Imagine you’re driving a beaten-up Mini Metro.

You park outside a shop, black smoke belching from the exhaust, and get out of the car. The rusty door closes behind you with a squeak.

A snotty teenager standing by a nearby lamppost with a can of Monster energy drink snorts with derision.

“Ha ha, nice car, mate.”

Now, you might well think, “You insolent little twerp” (or something along those lines, perhaps with a shake of the fist).

…You might feel a jolt of sorrow for your beloved, clapped-out car, which you’ve owned for years.

…You might feel offended because you’re utterly skint and this is the best possible car you can afford.

…You might even laugh. You love the silly car and the way it makes people react.

All these kinds of reactions are possible.

But here’s the thing…

You wouldn’t take it deeply personally. It wouldn’t feel like an attack on your personality and body. It wouldn’t feel like they were challenging your very existence. You won’t feel that despair and humiliation you’d feel if someone mocked your face or your weight.

Because the car is not you, is it?

You drive it around, yes.

But it’s not the same thing as you.

This could be a good way to think of your body if you suffer from anxiety over your appearance.

An interesting trick that could change a bad body image

In last week’s letter I wrote about how one in eight adults in the UK have been so distressed about their body image that they’ve considered suicide. That is, according to a recent poll by the Mental Health Foundation.

I related the story of my wife’s friend’s devastation when a stranger in the street was horrible about her weight.

And I think it struck a nerve with some of you.

One of my readers wrote to me saying that there’s a misconception among many people that “we ARE our bodies and therefore our self-esteem depends on how we and others think of our bodies”.

She made the analogy of the body as a car, which I found interesting.

“Once someone realises that their body is similar to the car they move around in, and that they, as an individual, are the driver of the body and the driver of the car, there is a different view of the situation.”

In other words, the car might be what you move around in, but it doesn’t define you.

She says: “Of course it is good to take responsibility for the condition of your body, just as you make sure that your car gets petrol and oil and a regular service and cleaning.  But you are not your car and you are not your body. And there are all sorts of colours and shapes and sizes of cars! Personally I drive a blue Nissan Micra – small, but hey, it’s OK for me!!”

So if you do worry about how you look, this could be a neat mental trick that helps you feel less anxiety and distress.

Firstly, because you might think at times that your body looks like a clapped-out car but it’s not who YOU really are, so you can take any criticism (even from yourself) with a pinch of salt.

Secondly, because you could view your body in a different way and love it as much as you do an old car.

As my reader says, “You are not your body, you are an individual being and you can change how you feel about yourself.”

Anyway, if you have any tips or insights, do keep your emails coming as I love to receive them and share some of your wisdom.

Talking of weight issues…

As I mentioned last week, a lot of the problem comes down to people being guilt-tripped into faddy diets.

This isn’t just the diet industry at fault but the food industry itself. Many ready meals on the supermarket shelves are advertised as being calorie controlled, high protein or low carb, depending on what kind of dieters they are aiming at.

But can processed foods really be the answer to sustained weight loss?

Not according to new research reported on the Beeb last Sunday.

More bad news about processed food

Dr Kevin Hall, from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, has carried out a study which showed that “Ultra-processed foods led to increases in calorie intake and in body weight and in fat.”

Volunteers who ate ultra-processed food consumed 500 calories a day more than those whose diet consisted of unprocessed meals.

By the way, the content of the two different diets was matched so that both groups were eating the same amounts of sugars, carbs, fats and fibres.

So it wasn’t that the unprocessed meals were, technically, unhealthier.

Dr Hall explained:

“When people were consuming the unprocessed diet, one of the appetite-suppression hormones (called PYY) that has been shown in other studies to be related to restraining people’s appetite actually went up despite the fact that they’re now eating less calories.”

In other words, ultra-processed foods might affect the hunger hormones in our bodies, leading us to eat more. Which would mean that just because a processed diet ready meal is lower in carbs, sugars and fats, it might not be as good for you as you’re led to believe.

When asked what defined an “ultra-processed food” Dr Hall said that we should watch out for:

  • ingredients you cannot pronounce
  • more than five ingredients on the packet
  • anything your grandmother would not recognise as food

I think that’s generally good advice anyway when it comes to buying packaged food.

As always, I am not saying NEVER buy it.

Sometimes you need a break from cooking.

Sometimes you want a treat. Sometimes you just need emergency foods in the freezer.

But avoid relying on them, especially as some kind of diet solution, even if the packaging boasts otherwise.

Have a great weekend!